Within the last few months, I’ve been amazed at the level of passion and energy created by Facebook followers. My plunge into social networking was rather late, prompted by the beginning of my Blog, Rectoremeritus.org. As I have shared in various posts, I have been gratified by the positive responses by various readers to my more serious musings in my Blog as well as my more “off the cuff” and whimsical postings on my FB page. In addition to the postings of photos at lunches with family and friends, together with the selfies with dogs (l love dogs!), I have not shied away from the occasional political post or sharing an op-ed commentary from this or that major newspaper or journal. Being now, both emeritus and retired, I am freed from the care and caution that characterized such sentiments and comments when I was pastor.
During my 41 years as an active priest and more particularly, cognizant of my responsibilities as Rector at Holy Family Cathedral for 15 years and subsequently as Pastor/Rector of Mission Basilica for 11 years, I assiduously strove never to use the ‘sanctuary’ pulpit as a ‘bully’ pulpit for personal, partisan politics. That is not to say that I shied away from raising what some might refer to as ‘social gospel’ themes and issues. However, I invariably hued carefully to the guidance provided by the Bishops of our Country, particularly in their documents touching social and political themes, such as Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.
Now, freed from these more public roles as a minister of the Gospel, there is a greater freedom to engage in sharing more partisan perspectives in the rough and tumble world of social media. It goes without saying, that such musings and sharing’s are wholly personal and in no way, reflect official positions of the Diocese of Orange, its Bishop or anyone else holding public office in the church. Rather, they are the fruit of my own thoughtful reflection and convictions. Being retired does not mean that one retires one’s mind from ongoing engagement in the important social and political issues of our time. Being retired does not mean that one retires from being a faithful citizen of this blessed land, nor engaging in the political discourses that might hopefully lead to a ‘more perfect union’ in our country. And finally, being retired does not mean shying away from vigorous engagement with others on the important topics that will shape the integrity and goodness of our country both now and for generations to come.
It is with all this in mind, that I was disappointed in receiving recently the following response to a post that touched upon political themes: “…. I just friended him to see first hand a "man of God," post cheap propaganda and fake news using his fame with his FB following to spread divisiveness between Republican and Democrats. Some Republicans did this to Obama when he got elected. #soreloosers unfriend and pray for them. God warned us about "shepards (sic) leading the lambs astray." Pray for him and others.” My response was simple: “Wow,…….. that's quite an indictment. I too have the same freedom as others in our beautiful country to hold to my political convictions as I respect you to hold yours. FB is a forum for a variety of perspectives to be shared w hopeful civility. When you reached out to 'friend' me, I had no idea that there was an ulterior motive. That saddens me. God bless you and your lovely family.”
Believe me, folks, in the many years of priesthood such indictments are pretty much par for the course. One cannot preach the gospel with a modicum of integrity without “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” at some point or other!
In the end, I’ve always viewed Facebook like a buffet in Las Vegas. Laid out in extraordinary abundance is every possible delicious goody one could ever imagine. Invariably, though, there will be something we don’t like – broccoli or pig’s feet or whatever – and we just skip it. Odd would be the person who marches up to the head waiter and demands that it be removed because we find it offensive. This is America, we simply have the freedom of responsible choice!
“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity” - Rupertus Meldenius